tv This Week in Northern California PBS September 20, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT
a new approach could get more of oakland's african-american boys graduating high school instead of dying young. >> if you had not received the kind of support as a by that you are providing to these african-american boys at this school where would you be today? >> i'd be in san quentin, or dead. >> black men are teaching and mentoring black boys in hopes of shifting the odds toward success and survival. >> we're trying to make transformations. if you look at the statistics in oakland, we're the highest in everything we don't need to be in. >> a special report in collaboration with the san francisco criterion telecoming up next.
>> good evening. i'm joshua johnson of qkqed news. imagine that your fate was determined by a coin toss. heads you win, tails you lose. or die. sounds extreme. but that is what many african-american boys in oakland face as they work to complete high school. in the last decade, the number of black males who have died on the city streets is nearly equal to the number who have graduated from its high schools ready for college. but now there are new efforts in the school system to turn this around. the strategy? pair black boys with upstanding black men. in hopes of teaching the kids a better way forward.
>> morning, sir, how you doing? >> good. >> siswe teaches the manhood development class at oakland's sky lie high school. >> glad you could be with us. >> he and about a dozen african-american male teachers are focused on making sure plaque boys graduate high school. >> take a step back. y'all ready? >> we're trying to make transformations. a lot of our brothers are failing disproportionately. if we look at statistics in oakland we're the highest in everything we don't need to be in. >> you'll see higher rates of dropouts, lower rates of graduation, higher rates of chronic absence, higher rates of suspension. >> june yus williams is ceo of the urban strategies council, an oakland-based nonprofit working to eliminate persistent poverty. in 2010, the council partnered with oakland unified in developing solutions for improving the academic and social outcomes for black boys.
that same year, the district launched the office of african-american male achievement. chris chatman is the executive director. the manhood development class is one of the office's programs. >> one of the strategies with our manhood development classes, just getting eye level with the youth. how do we put the swag in education, in learning? >> one challenge to restoring that swag, that swaggering sense of cool, was getting boys motivated to even show up to school. >> what we found was that if kids weren't excited about being in school, and they weren't engaged and being encouraged, then they would get turned on to the streets. >> back at skyline, abaca took me on a tour of the campus. skyline is one of eight high schools and three middle schools in oakland that offer the manhood development class. the students come from varying academic, economic, and family backgrounds. >> define manhood in the context
of this program. what does it mean to be a man? >> i just want brothers to embrace all aspects of manhood. not just the strength but the compassion, the love, aspects of fatherhood, aspects of husbandhood, aspects of brotherhood. >> ready, one. >> one. >> every day abaca, known as brother siswe, leads the boys in exercise. it focuses their minds to become better students. >> and my major concern is a lot of brothers don't know how to receive information, take notes, sit down somewhere. a lot of my brothers need fathers, period. i don't know whatever way i can put it. as a manhood development program is opportunity for us to connect with these young men to make them feel valued, loved and supported. >> in elementary school, a lot of the teachers used to tell me i'll never accomplish anything. and i was one of the smartest kids in my class. >> abaca says sometimes the
class feels more like therapy. >> might have to deal with a brother that lost a cousin, a brother that might be having a baby next week. >> students built altars to honor fallen classmates and on the record victims of gun violence, stark reminders of the trauma many carry into the classroom. >> i grew up on 94th. that was a bad area. a lot of killings happened. >> wesley brownly, a 15-year-old freshman, is a student in the manhood class. when he graduated from middle school, he had a 3.5 gpa. once he started high school, it began to drop. >> i seen myself hanging out with kind of the wrong friends and all that, bad stuff. >> looking good so far. i just got to turn in a big history assignment. and i'm kind of late on it already. >> whatever support you need, between myself, the youth center, you know, tutoring on campus, it's time.
>> before, i always worried about sports. now, brother siswe made us dig deeper into school. we don't have a good education we might not get to the school we want, we might not have a good job when we get older. >> a few miles away a charter school is trying a more comprehensive approach targeting kids starting in kindergarten and all of the nearly 75 students enrolled are african-american boys. >> a lot of the boys come to this school have failed in other schools, been kicked out, expelled. and, you know, we are not quick to do that. >> dr. mark alexander, a retired epidemiologist, is is board chairman of the 100 black men of the bay area community school. the school, which opened in 2012, focuses on an educational mix known as s.t.e.a.m. science, technology, engineerininengineering, the ar maths.
it currently serves elementary students but the goal is to expand coverage through 12th grade. >> i grew up in foster homes. i grew up in very, very tough situations. i used to fight a lot. i used to get suspended. and so i see a lot of myself in these boys. and i see the genius in a lot of the these kids. i know that it only takes a few people to just give someone the encouragement that they need to really thrive. >> kids start every morning with breakfast then line up to repeat their morning affirmations known as the scholar holler. >> who are we? >> we are leaders! we are empowered! >> who's ready to learn? >> we are! >> the school offers a homework club, aeronautics class, help forring in medicine and science. the goal is to make sure all the needs of african-american boys are met.
>> if you had not received the kind of support as a boy that you are providing to these african-american boys at this school, where would you be today? >> i'd be in san quentin. or dead. >> you seem very sure of that. >> absolutely. i had people that refused to let me fail. who said, you've got to do this, you've got to do this. there are no other options for you. and we've got to have that. we have to have that attitude towards our children today. >> dr. alexander says the situation is more dire than people may think. it's not just an african-american issue or even an oakland issue. it's an economic issue that impacts everyone in california. a state where minorities now make up the majority. >> when we fail black boys, latino boys, whomever it is, there's a cost attached to that.
incarceration, social services, added police protection, insurance rates, the litany goes on and on and on. and it's a huge price tag. when you invest up front and you make those boys successful, you turn that, you invert that. >> good to see you, congratulations. >> thank you. >> congratulations, man, excellent. >> for chris chatman, success begins by acknowledging achievements every step of the way. this year, chatman's office co-sponsored an annual honor roll event celebrating african-american boys and girls from 8th to 12th grades who maintained a 3.0 grade point average. one of the skyline manhood development students, 15-year-old jayvon, performed a spoken word event. >> i'm 11 years old, in the
sixth grade, and i can't read. the teachers don'totice me. i can't read. >> jayvon did not have the gpa needed to win an award. but he plans to get one next year. his performance at the event was both a painful reminder of what black boys are up against and a moving testament to their potential. >> but on this biggest day of the school year i was coming down the lane ready to do my thing. and at the same time that i heard my knee snap i see my family's dream shattered. i'm asking y'all, what are my odds? i can't read. >> the office of african-american male achievement is seeing some early signs of progress. >> ready? go. >> some of the participating schools are reporting fewer
discipline problems, better grades, and improved attendance. but reversing the old trends remains daunting. >> i definitely think that in these programs sometimes there's a lot put on the man or woman that's coming to the aid or support our children. and it -- just because i'm here for one month doesn't mean all these brothers are going to start automatically going to class and wanting to do their homework and different things like that. there's many layers and layers and layers that we have to peel back. >> let's continue the conversation now. joining us here in the studio tonight are tiago robinson, a manhood development facilitator at oakland high. jill tucker, education reporter for the "san francisco chronicle." and joining us from denver, pedro nogueira, prove soar of social ology at new york
university. welcome. jill tucker, let me start writ you. you spent a year following these programs for the "san francisco chronicle" documentary series "even odds." what made you decide to. the on this? >> in the 15 years that i've been covering education in california, i kept reporting the same statistics about african-american males across california, and specifically in oakland. and they didn't change very much. in a good year in oakland, the graduation rate for african-american males is 50%. homicide is the leading cause of death for african-american males in oakland age 15 to 34. and another statistic that i recently stumbled upon about a i can't remember ago was the number of african-american males graduating from oakland high schools ready for college, ready for the uc or csu system. over the last decade, 802. in that same time period, 787 african-american males were killed. >> only a difference of 25
people. >> almost the same exact number. in certain years, more killed than graduated college ready, other years the opposite. it was so close over the decade. it was a moment -- this has always been a story in the back of my mind. this is the time, i want to go into the schools, i want to be that entry point for our readers to see what it's like for these students to grow up in oakland, these african-american males. what their lives are like. and also chronicle what the district was trying to do. a somewhat radical approach to addressing the needs of african-american males. basically saying, we are going to create an office of african-american male achievement. a department in the school district specifically for one gender and one race. and we're going to create classes just for african-american males. and at the same time open a school that was made for and by african-american memorandas. >> one of the people who works in those classes is tiago robinson. you teach one of the manhood development classes at oakland high. tell us how your background
personally relates to what you're doing with these kids. >> well, i actually went through oakland unified school. so not making it, i was one of those that didn't make it, ended up dropping out in the innocent grade. so -- and, you know, running the streets, know oakland very well, doing things that i shouldn't have been doing. and as you start to get older and people believe in you, my opportunity changed. and one of the things i always wanted to do, though, was to come back to oakland and give back and work with the oakland youth. >> and the fact that you kind of came up the rough side of the mountain is one of those things i imagine gives you relate ability to a lot of these boys. you get real street cred because of where you've been. >> yeah, definitely. >> professor, let me ask you about these programs on a larger scale. i know you spent some time looking at the work that's been done in oakland schools yourself as well as some of the work that's done in other districts
across the country trying similar things. what do you think of this kind of approach? does it go far enough or is there more that needs to happen? >> well, i want to applaud the district for taking this initiative to try to address this large problem. but i want everyone to keep in mind it is a large problem. it's not simply about addressing this manhood development class. you have to understand that there's an economic aspect of this problem. if you look at the unemployment rates for young men, particularly african-american men, ages 16 to 25, some of the highest of any group in the country. if you don't address that problem, you're not going to see this issue go away. you're talking about violence and homicide which is not going to be addressed by this initiative by itself. so what i would encourage those who are working on this to think about is, how do you integrate some other aspects into this program so that you can start to address the problems early on with children, but also particularly as they enter adolescence and they start to
need to earn a living. how do you address that part of it as well? because if you don't address the economics of it you're not going to find a real reduction, it'ser in homicide rates or unemployment or dropping out of school. >> it seems like a lot of what's done, professor, since we've got you on the line, is a hybrid approach, whether you look at something like oakland unified's program, some people are credentialed teachers, some who are supervised by credentialed teachers, harlem children zone, wrap-around services. seem like the hybrid approach where it's community and nonprofit and some governmental or semi-governmental agencies. that seems to be the way things are going now. do you think that's the rye way to go forward or are there other strategies that maybe sneed to be tried to help african-american boys that aren't really on the table right now? >> i can't say enough about the importance of there being an employment aspect to this. if you look at numbers of those who are killed over that period
jill tucker described, i bet very few of them had jobs, very few of them had careers. you've really got to recognize the young people who think they're going somewhere because there's something to live for, because they have a family, they have a career, they have a future, are going to be -- make different decisions than young people who are headed nowhere. and so we really have to address that aspect of the problem. >> and i think what's interesting about this as well, that the district is looking at long-term solutions. so if they get kids to college, they're going to help them continue through college. they don't want to just stop at the classroom door of manhood development. i think what is very different about this program, what oakland is doing, is they are looking very specifically not just at all the kids at the bottom of the achievement gap but they're looking at a very specific subgroup, as i said. they're looking at african-american males. and as professor nogueira said, they have very specific needs. and so how this is working is
looking at them as individuals, looking at the issues that they face as african-american males in oakland. the fear that teachers have of them or shop owners have of them or as president obama said, the doors that lock as they walk by. that's a very different life that they lead than, say, a latina female. her issues that land her at the bottom of the achievement gap are very different. so looking at this, what they call targeted universalism, is trying to identify the needs of these kids. so it's jobs. it's confidence. it's mentors. it's role models. it's father of coursefigures. giving them those things that they need as african-american males is what the district is trying to do now and that is very different than the no child left behind approach of, okay, just throw money at everyone at the bottom of the achievement gap and see what happens. >> let me ask you about that. for people who look at black boys in particular and feel like they basically are staring frankly into a black hole, they
have absolutely no idea what the cultural issues are, no idea where to begin in terms of rendering help, what have you found, if you had one key for everyone who has to deal with african-american boys on any level to breaking the ice, to breaking the surface, to making an inroads, what's the one most essential thing you found that it takes to kind of begin that conversation? >> don't give up. you know, don't give up. because, you know, they're going to try you. just like any kids will. and just see if you're for real. >> what do you mean by that? give me an example. >> a lot of kids even for me, what are you doing this for? a paycheck. this summer we met at oakland high with 25 african-american men, young men, bad attendance, low credit, bad grades. and so we met with the families during the summer. called the families in. a lot of the young help was like, you're just doing this for a paycheck.
i have to say in front of my administrator, no, i'm not, i'm doing this because i care. i think once kids see that you care, you can be like the pied piper. they'll do anything that you say. so i think it's just really caring. and if people do that, teachers do that, then it's easier to break the cycle. >> jill, let me ask you about your presence in the story. we were joking around since the very beginning of this about you, the well-meaning white lady, who ends up parachuting into east and west oakland to meet all these black kids into this universe that is very foreign i would imagine to your experiences in life. for people who feel that way, it can be very easy to both say, how do i get started, and to ask, well, why black kids? why not hispanic kids? there's plenty of asian kids in the bay area, why not start with them? why this group of students is they're not even a primary part of the population. african-americans, only 4% of
the population or less in parts of the bay area. why black boys? why not start with hispanic kids or someone else? >> well, for the most part african-american memorandas are at the bottom of every statistic that's out there. lower than english language learners on some test scores or special education students. so this is a group of kids that is always on the radar as being at the bottom. there's been a movement across the country in the obama administration, elsewhere, to address the needs of men and boys of color. we've had a lot of issues with trayvon martin, with fruitvale station. it's really at a moment where this topic is at the forefront. and to a large degree, it's about time. it was not easy going into these classrooms and gaining trust and getting the students and even the staff to open up to me. but on the other hand, there's a lot of "me's" out there.
people who will never know what it's like for these kids to get out of bed every morning. it was a privilege to actually try to understand a little bit what was their lives were like. many of these kids were heroes for getting out of bed in the morning given the trauma and experiences they've had. these kids by the time they get to middle school can't remember how many funerals they've been too, literally. it is -- i think i'm the inroad for a lot of people to answer many of the questions a lot of people have in society of, why do black boys fail so much? and, is there hope? i think with all the statistics, there's a lot of the fatigue out there. failure fatigue. and so i think that it is -- this is a way to look at that and say, is there hope? is there possibility? i think, you know, professor nogueira, i'd love to hear what he thinks about this idea of failure fatigue. >> yeah, what do you make of that, professor, this idea that people may just be burned out on the idea of dealing with this
problem? >> well, i think that's what's happened over the years, that we've gotten accustomed to the idea that black males are overrepresented in our prisons and among those who are dropping out and those who are being killed. and i think it's important that even as you draw the attention to this issue and shine a light on it in the way that "the chronicle" has done, i want to give jill tuck smer credit for that, you also have to be careful. it could easily reinforce the idea, something is wrong with black males, there's something fundamentally at the root that needs to be changed about them. what we need to constantly remind the broader audience is what needs to change is the circumstances these young people are being raised in. some of these kids don't have a chance from the time they're born. they're born in circumstances where there's very little opportunity, low birth weight, high infant mortality weight. just a lack of opportunity. so that's the reason why what concerns me is i don't think enough people are at the table.
it's great the school district is stepping up. where's the city of oakland? governor brown was formerly the mayor of oakland. he should have something to say because we need to think about these issues in a more comprehensive way. east oakland, last time i was there, is devastated. east mall, a thriving mall, is now just barely operating as a commercial entity. so it sends a message to kids about what's possible for them. and so i just want to make sure that the viewers don't believe -- don't see this simply as a black male problem but recognize that there are pockets of america that have just been left behind. this is one pocket there in oakland. and it's a shame because the bay area is rich with resources. and this is something that we should be able to do something about. >> before we run out of time in our conversation, i want to ask you for people who are looking at this in exactly the way that professor nogueira suggested and said, i care about this issue, what do you expect me to do
about it? i'm a middle class white tech entrepreneur in sunnyvale. i've never been through east oakland. i've passed it on 880 but that's as increase as i get. what do you expect me to do about it? what would you say to them? >> volunteer in the schools. it's a community. it takes a community to raise these kids. so we need people to come in and volunteer, you know? >> what kinds of volunteers do you most need? if you could have your pick, if you could go volunteer shopping? >> definitely with the i.t., tech, just coming into the classrooms, donating, answering some phones, being part of the meetings. we just need more of that. help get the kids on the bus, even though they're high schools. the more adults out there, the easier it's going to be. >> black, white and otherwise? >> couldn't matter. >> since you're dealing with these kids and since you are on the front line, i want to end with you. who in your class gives you the
most hope? you're dealing with some really tough cases there. who or what gives you the most hope going forward? >> out of the whole class or just one -- >> give me one brief example before we run out of time. >> i'd say all of them. the whole class. >> why is that? >> because they show up every day. they're there every day. they listen to me. i'm not easy to get along with. i'm at your house -- >> knocking on the door. >> i'm calling the house, knocking on your door, trying to get you to see the bigger picture. and we had enrollment, registration this week, and kids were coming to me like, thiago, i'm taking an ap class. this is something i mentioned to them in the ninth grade, they're eleventh graders now. all of them give me hope. >> excellent, excellent. it gives us hope as well to see that there are people like you who are paying attention, who are helping out with this, and people are paying attention to it. that is our broadcast for tonight. thanks very much to everyone for a great conversation.
thiago robinson, jill tucker, professor pedro nogueira in denver. kqed.org/thisweek for links on the "even odds" video profile o our guest thiago robinson. >> all your brothers if here can go to college. you're there. but you have to put in the work. you have to go home and study. >> we leave you with some images taken by "san francisco chronicle" photographer lacy adkins for the "even odds" series. until we meet again, i'm joshua johnson of kqed news. thank you for watching. good night.